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  • Writer's pictureLama Jigme Gyatso

A Mantra for the Dying

nee asked, “When a person

is nearing death,

is there a mantra

for the occasion?

Oh sure,

I could teach you

Om A-mi De-wa Hri

the mantra of A-mi-ta-bha

who, legend tells us,

swore an oath,

many ages ago,

that all who invoke him,

would take rebirth:

immediate and auspicious,

in his pure land,

or paradise,

of Joy.

Although such an answer

might satisfy the fundamentalists:

fearful, controlling, and rigid;

it could actually trigger

our clinging impulse

which is actually antithetical

to the Buddha’s teaching.

Let’s take a step back

and view death and dying

from the perspective

of first principals.

From a certain point of view

the Buddha’s FIRST noble truth

was there is stress,

and plenty of it.

When it comes to stress

our brainstem dreads loss, as well as pain,

and our midbrain dreads a loss

of interpersonal connection

as well as a loss of perception,

emotion, intention, reason,

recall, and imagination

that we could feel is self

(if there is such a thing).

We feel this dread

to a greater or lesser degree

at the prospect

of any death:

our own, a close companion, a celebrity,

or to a lesser degree, even a stranger.

For as healthy mammals

born with fully functional mid-brains

replete with anterior gyrates

and a firmament of mirror neurons

we are wired for empathy,

it is our birthright

and perhaps even

our Buddha nature.

The SECOND noble truth teaches

that although all are subject

to the vicissitudes of stress:

seeming random and capricious,

humans have the unfortunate tendency

to neurotically indulge dread and desire

in such a way

as to exacerbate our stress.

The THIRD noble truth reassures us

that there exists the possibility

IF not to rid ourselves

of the presence of dread and desire

THEN at least

to liberate us

from their tyranny.

The FOURTH noble truth

explains that this is accomplished

NOT by invoking the caprice

of a real or imagined celestial entity,

BUT by simply practicing

eight sets of techniques.


by harnessing the energy

of our dread or desire

through the active contemplation

of love and letting-go

(the second and first folds of his path)

and also through the passive practice

of mindfulness and meditation

(the seventh and eighth folds of his path).

In the numerical discourses of the Buddha

we read that the contemplation of love

(no less their practice,

the third, fourth, and fifth folds of his path)

ensures us

an auspicious rebirth

and in the Dhammapada

we read that mindfulness

(the seventh fold of his path)

is eternal life.

Thus, by enthusiastically practicing

(the sixth fold of his path)

the most fundamental

of the Buddha’s teachings

we can insure a meaningful life

and a peaceful death.

A similar process

could be used

to help us through

the grieving process.

But how could we help others

who are facing the specter of death?

Of course we can teach them the techniques

we have mastered

but what if they are unwilling

or unable to learn?

When we sit with them

they could entrain

up to our peace.

And when we practice

our loving-kindness contemplations

we can wish for their auspicious rebirth.

All of these we’ll explore

during this morning’s guided


Let us conclude

with a simple

call to action

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